Running With UC - An Interview with Adam from I Have UC.com
Tips4Running presents an interview with Adam from I Have UC.com. He has been living and even been running with UC for years. UC stands for ulcerative colitis, which is a disease that affects the colon. Through his website, Adam shares his successes and struggles with this disease.
David Tiefenthaler - Hello Adam. Thanks for the interview. You were recommended to me by Joe Walczak. He ran a half marathon with you and mentioned you have a very nice website called, I Have UC. I have been there and read your story, but to be honest I still don’t understand ulcerative colitis that well. Can you explain what this disease is and how it affects people who have it?
Adam - Sure thing David. Ulcerative Colitis is a gastro-intestinal disease that is considered an "auto-immune" disease. It directly affects the colon and it indirectly affects other parts of the body as well. The main idea in basic terms is that the immune system is triggering the white blood cells to attack the inner lining of the colon, often creating ulcerations that can cause internal bleeding, cramping, diarrhea, and other unpleasant symptoms. Probably, the constant feeling of needing to have a bowel movement is what many UC sufferers hate the most. And unfortunately, most people don't find ways to turn this auto-immune response off.
Many people who are living with ulcerative colitis experience constant symptoms for days, months, and unfortunately years and years. The symptoms can lead to rapid weight loss, anemia, and in some severe cases colon removal surgery. What is really unfortunate is that ulcerative colitis is most commonly diagnosed in young people between the ages of 15-30
Dave - Does running help you manage UC or does running and or exercise sometimes cause flare-ups.
Adam - That's a great question. I am not sure quite yet how to answer that. Last year for example, I raced the half marathon in Las Vegas, NV in December. Shortly before and afterwards, I was experiencing some worse than usual symptoms and eventually in January I was in a moderate flare up that I quickly got under control. I'll be racing again this December, and I'll have a better idea for you. But what I believe may have happened is over the holidays last year, I started eating some foods that simply don't agree with me and my disease, and I believe that the Thanksgiving and other Holidays can really test my will power and also my colitis.
Dave - When you run races like the half marathon, are you doing this to raise money for UC?
Adam - Last year, I was trying to raise money for UC. I actually was a part of the Crohns and Colitis Foundation of America's Team Challenge program. I was able to raise over $3,400 which was donated to the CCFA on behalf of my sponsors.
Dave - You also have gone on some pretty cool biking trips. You’ve been down to Argentina to do a seven-week bike tour. Your wife is from the Czech Republic and you have been biking with her there too. How were these trips?
Adam - Those trips were incredible. I have always enjoyed going on long range bike trips with my sleeping bag and tent, and somehow I found a way to get down to Argentina and then later with my wife in the Czech and Slovak Republics for a month long bike journey. For me, being out in the outskirts of villages and towns in foreign countries is the best thing I've discovered on planet earth. Not only can this type of travel be very fun and physically challenging, but it is also a great way to learn about local people in their native lands.
What's really excellent is staying in touch with people you meet overseas on trips like the bike trips I've taken. Several people I still keep in contact today, and I hope to meet up with them again in the future.
But back to the physical challenge of biking with 50 pounds of gear strapped to your bike, it is usually tough the first few days of any trip. There can be big time changes depending on where you travel to. And quite possibly you might not get the best sleep the first night or two. But soon enough, you'll be on a good schedule and super excited to wake up in the morning and pack your bike up and shove off for another 50 mile day. I can't say enough about this type of activity.
Dave - Do you bike at all now?
Adam - I do still bike ride, however, for the past two years, it has been very limited. My biking is mostly around town biking. You know, going to the grocery story, or other places locally. I live in Berkeley, California, which is a very biker friendly environment, so that's great. There are tons of hills and places to get a great workout in either before or after work or on weekends. But for the record, I'm starting to get things in line for a long range bike trip again in the future. It's going to take some convincing of my wife, but after the first few days of her first trip, she did say she was having fun...
Dave - I have a friend with Crohn’s Disease, and ulcerative colitis sounds similar to his condition. What are the differences or similarites to these two diseases?
Adam - I hope your friend is doing alright and has his Crohn's under control. I'm by no means an expert on Crohn's, but there are some similarities, especially with the treatments that many physicians use. My understanding is that Crohn's is another Inflammatory Bowel Disease which can affect anywhere on a person body between the mouth and the anus. That's pretty much the whole pipe. It is similar to UC in that it's considered an auto-immune disease too.
Many of the medicines that are prescribed are similar and even identical to what a UC patient might receive if you use the western medicine approaches. For example, my uncle had Crohn's disease, and he eventually had his colon removed and lived with a bag at his side for 35 years. I like to think of the main difference as a locational difference. Crohn's can be inflammation anywhere within the whole GI tract. And UC is limited to the Colon.
Dave - You seem like a big advocate for a specific diet called the “Specific Carbohydrate Diet” or SDC. Can you explain this diet and how is it working for you?
Adam - Sure, this diet is what I use to treat my UC. I'm medication free as well for about 8 months now. This diet is based on the idea that the symptoms are caused by an imbalance in gut bacteria within the colon. By eating certain foods and eliminating other foods, the idea is to make changes to the balance of gut bacteria. When this happens, the immune system becomes happy and does not want to continue attacking the walls of the colon. You could almost think of UC as a bacterial infection if you buy into this theory(as I do). And once the infection or bad bacteria is corrected, meaning reduced in volume or nearly eliminated, a much better state of happiness can come to the colon and the patient as a whole.
Dave - To manage UC, do you have to take any medications?
Adam - Many people take medications to try and manage their UC. Probably the overwhelming majority of patients that I've come across use medications. But to answer your question, No, you don't have to. I think I'm living proof that a diet change can be all that you need to do.
Dave - Is ulcerative colitis something you are born with, or does it develop later in life? Is it hereditary?
Adam - I was not born with ulcerative colitis. I did develop symptoms though later in life. Whether or not it is hereditary is always under heavy discussion in the medical world. Neither my brother or sister have UC, but my uncle and grandpa on my father's side both had GI issues. I believe there must be a genetic link or at least genetics might be playing some role in the chances of developing UC.
Dave - How do doctor’s typically treat UC? Do they usually just prescribe medication, tell you to go on a diet, or do you have to have surgery in some cases?
Adam - Yes, medications are by far the most common type of treatment doctors go to first. In my opinion, diet is very low on the priority list as far as treatment options that doctors recommend. I was not once told about diet as a treatment. This advice came from another UC'er I luckily met.
Dave - You have some job history working with the internet. What exactly did you do, and did your experience here lead you to make your own website, I Have UC?
Adam - Yes indeed. I worked for a website hosting company in the Silicon Valley for several years, and that is where I learned how easy it is to create a website. One day in December of 2009, while my wife was back in her native Czech Republic I became very bored. Since I found a solution to my UC through diet, I wanted to share the idea with others, and that is how the website I HAVE UC all began.
Dave - You write some of the posts for the website, but a lot of stories are from readers. Is your goal to help people by sharing how other people deal with ulcerative colitis?
Adam - That's a great question. And yes indeed, one of the major goals is for people living with UC not to feel so alone, and to know they can share their story with others that are going through the same tough times. So many of the stories have such similar themes about colitis symptoms, that I am pretty sure people all over the world realize they are for sure not alone once they do a little reading on the site.
Dave - Many of the stories are quite depressing. Is it rough reading and sharing all these stories with readers?
Adam - Yes it is. But if you live with ulcerative colitis and you've been to hell and back like I have, you just learn that horrible, bloody, all day all night symptoms are part of the disease. That doesn't change. But what often does change is that people do find ways to get better and heal. And because of that, along with emails I receive from others living with UC who say they have benefited from the site, the site makes me really happy.
Adam - You bet, the book Brain Rules is something everyone should buy and read right away. I was lucky enough to meet the author before he was presenting a few months ago. Within a few minutes I knew I could learn all sorts of things from Dr. John Medina. He's a genius and his book breaks things down in simple terms.
He explains how stress can be a great thing. And he also explains how it can really hurt your body. The negative part has to do with cortisol being released into our bodies from stress, and too much of that causes blood vessel problems among other things. So, the long story short is, now that I know the scientific side of why too much stress is bad for me, I can focus even better on finding ways to eliminate stressful situations that are simply unnecessary to life.
But to tie this all together to my UC, stress also triggers the immune system response. And that is definitely something I want to keep turned off if its not necessary. That's also why I'm big into stress management and why I talk about it quite often on I Have UC.
Dave - I also enjoyed your bathroom talks. Do you do these videos to show people they don’t have to be embarrassed about this disease?
Adam - That's right. NO need to be embarrassed by UC. Tons of people have it, and living with it is definitely not the end of the world.
Dave - Thanks for your time Adam. You have an excellent website. I am sure your willingness to share and your honesty has helped many people with UC more than you can imagine.